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Ukraine Affair Latest


Text messages may have just become important evidence in an impeachment inquiry. This is 2019 after all. A series of texts released last night showed diplomats debating how to maneuver President Trump's demands on Ukraine. The text messages involve State Department officials in Europe. And as we know now, the president was withholding military aid from Ukraine and also asking Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. As we'll hear, a top diplomat calls it, quote, "crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign" - end quote. House committee chairman released the text messages after hearing a long day of testimony from a former U.S. diplomat. And let's bring in NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, who's been following all of this. Hi there, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what do you see in these texts?

DAVIS: So a word of caution - these are excerpts of partial conversations involving three State Department officials, an aide to Ukraine President Zelenskiy and, in some cases, the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

GREENE: Partial, meaning there could be more of the conversation we're not seeing yet.

DAVIS: Right. And Democrats are saying they plan to release the full context of these text message conversations after they've been scrubbed for personally identifiable information. That said, the takeaway on what they have released is that it largely seems to corroborate the things we already know - the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy in which the president asked him to look into the Biden family. The messages also convey concerns about withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine and the message it would send to Russia.

There's also that one exchange in particular you just referenced that's going to get a lot of attention. And that is - it's dated September 9. It involves Bill Taylor. He's a diplomatic official at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine. And he sends this text message to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, saying, quote, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance to help with a political campaign." Sondland replies, quote, "I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind." He then suggests they stop texting and talk over the phone instead. Democrats are saying all of this only adds up to validating their impeachment investigation.

GREENE: Wow. All right. So a lot to dig through there, and this comes as a diplomat - right? - Kurt Volker, who had been the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, testified for something, like, nine hours on the Hill.

DAVIS: Right. He testified for almost 9 1/2 hours. It should not come as a surprise to you or anyone that Democrats and Republicans are walking out of these closed-door meetings with very different takes. Here's Eric Swalwell - he's a Democrat from California - on his takeaway from Volker's testimony.


ERIC SWALWELL: We have ample evidence now that there was a requirement that President Zelenskiy investigate the 2016 election and the Bidens if he wanted to get a meeting.

DAVIS: And then listen to, in contrast, Jim Jordan. He's a Republican from Ohio who also attended those meetings.


JIM JORDAN: Not one thing he has said comports with any of the Democrats' impeachment narrative - not one thing.

DAVIS: The one thing all of these lawmakers do seem to agree on is that they support releasing the full transcripts of that nine-hour deposition, which would give some public clarity to what exactly did go on there.

GREENE: Because it sounds like so far that they weren't even in the same meeting, so we should read read the full transcript. So more today, right? Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community's inspector general, is going to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. He played a central role in this whistleblower complaint, right?

DAVIS: Right. Just as a reminder, Atkinson handled the whistleblower complaint that sparked this entire thing. In his determination, the whistleblower was credible. It was a matter of urgent concern. He also disagreed with the decision handed down from the director of National Intelligence at the advice of the Justice Department that it did not need to be turned over to Congress. Atkinson disagreed with that, but he did alert Congress to its existence. That alert also ultimately led to the reveal of the complaint and the transcript. They're going to want to hear directly from him about his role in that entire process and other people they should maybe interview that he talked to. Republicans have also made clear that they're going to press him on any political bias the whistleblower may have had. The whistleblower still has not testified; no date on that yet.

GREENE: And Democrats say they're going to keep getting more aggressive, even issuing subpoenas if they have to.

DAVIS: Yes, they will. And if they don't comply, they say that could be a count of obstruction in an article of impeachment.

GREENE: All right. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.